Three Chinese Women in Three Pathriarchal Regimes

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first published here

This book came to my possession incidentally. I got it by swapping my Nikolai Gogol’s “Dead Souls” to this very book of friend’s. He knew that at that time, I had been watching Chinese cinema of Chinese’s 5th generation directors, especially those films of Zimao’s. He also has its Indonesian version so having an English one would be of no use.

Chinese under communism has drawn my interest since the country I lives in, Indonesia, was politically attached to it especially in the 60’s when PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) was at their height. Had not it been for the silence coup in 1965 (by some heinous coalition between military, Western secret bureaus, and small sect of internal group), PKI were favoured to be the winner of next year’s general election. It was no secret that military had been very critical towards Soekarno (Indonesia’s president at that time) for his nearness — ideologically, politically, and economically — towards PKI. He could condemn and break into pieces his political rivals (such as Masjumi, Islam-based party), but this same approach cannot be done to military. This was the start when military became very powerful, even until today.

Now let’s talk about the book. I feel very exhausted for the most part of the book. With every pages come one desperate circumstances after another as the author tells it in a very honest and gentle way. It seems to me that life under communism — Mao’s communism — brought nothing but losses, moral decline, social envy, hatred, and false idolatry. Every passages touched my nerves and swallowed my political ideals. Yes, socialism, let alone communism society, has widely considered as a starry-eyed way of life. But Jung shows you from the perspective of the daughter of high officials family (both of her parents were members of CPC, communist Party of China) which their life would gradually become too unbearable in last part of the book.

Jung tells the story of her grandmother and mother before of hers. A decent way in which we the readers would eventually know why communism could come into power. She chooses a woman figures as a central focus not because she herself a woman. I’ve come to believe that it’s her way to capture the distasteful feelings that must be occurred to every woman in China, no matter the regime is in throne. Her grandmother was a concubine to one militaryman. She couldn’t be his wife since he had got one, and having many concubines was considered a plus to one’s manliness — especially to those of with power such as his husband. Soon, China began its constant declining fate because of Sino-Japan war, West interference, and civil war between Kuomintang and Communists. Jung’s mother had spent most of her time in this social unrest.

Then the idea of communism as the freer of people entered her life. At the beginning it seemed no matter which side were you on (either fighting Japanese with Kuomintang or Communists), as the purpose was to bring every Chinese their better life. At a very young age Jung’s mother had joined the underground militia and was given some mission by her higher-rank commanders. It was through this that she and her husband, Wang Yu, eventually met and the couple would tie the knot. The event didn’t hold in a merry kind of wedding, but in communist-camaraderie way. China Communism hated the old, feudal Confucius way they considered it capitalistic.

Jung was a second child of five. It is his father, the only man that his characteristic stole the story. Well, at least to me. Wang Yu, a lover of Chinese classical poetry was a patriotic communist who had his way through the high rank of the party from the bottom. He joined the party very consciously as he had desperate for better society throughout his life. He set his ideals in line with the party’s. He hated corruption and nepotism as that what the party told so. Having his rank near the top, he never let his children use a piece of paper or a telephone and in fact, hit one of his sons for using an office paper. An incident that would later he regret deeply. Wang Ju was a portrait of a man who was brilliantly used by political elite so that their machine could run efficiently. I’m not going to tell you the rest of his story because his is one of the best father-figure story I’ve known in my entire life.

Then the Cultural Revolution started. Seemingly coincided with Soekarno’s conflict with military, Mao was also in fierce rivalry with military officials. It happened largely because his failure on economic policy: the infamous The Great Leap Forward that brought one of the great famines in human history. Disillusioned by power, Mao attracted to one of his close officials idea to create another great program which would bring Chinese society upside down. He soon created many enemies and classified and announced them in official mass media: papers and radio. Initially, the one that was labelled as enemy was one with connection to Kuomintang. Then it were those with middle-class occupations such as teacher and doctor. Children still attended school, but not for schooling. There were countless meetings and denouncements of class enemy: teachers were circled by them (The Red Guard) then they would call them every names under the sun. And there were a beatings, too!

Mao and co realised it was impossible to re-obtain power (it was Deng Xiaoping and Zhou Enlai who run the country, economically) unless to create an upheaval. He knew very much that teenagers would eagerly join his agenda. The teenagers themselves were mostly disillusioned by this revolution. They denounced, hit and ashamed their teachers (man and woman) in public. They raided people’s houses just because their leaders told them the inhabitants were the class enemies. It was a total chaos. The next phase of people-labelling worsened when Mao and co started to denounce an insiders: their own party’s members. Every allegations were stupid and people used it to settle personal scores. This is the part where Jung’s family were torn apart: mentally and physically.

As an autobiography that set in one of most prominent historical settings in history of mankind, Jung (or the publisher) put index at the back of book. So a history enthusiasts would feel grateful for this as there were too many important figures and events.

The idea of socialism, I’m sure, will never wane. We can even witness its ‘comeback’ in recent phenomenas (Corbynism, Sanders, Spanish Podemos). Though neoliberalism and capitalism downfall seems like a far cry, it is our task to create a just society. Deep in our hearts we long for it. History is told so people would learn the past. This book has a simple way to warn us that any ideology that seems good on paper will shift to demonic power as long as people on power close their ears, shut their eyes, refusing to learn from mistakes and critics.


Title: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China

Author: Jung Chang

Genre: Fiction, autobiography

Pages: 562

Publisher: Touchstone

Year: 2003

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